Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan will reach the 8,600-target likely by early June, sources told Reuters. This is well ahead of the agreed schedule set during the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, to which the Afghan government was not a party.
A key provision of the Taliban deal involved the U.S.’s commitment to reduce its military footprint in Afghanistan within 12 to 14 months. The timeline said the troops would be moved gradually, decreasing to 8,600 by mid-July, and completely pull out by May 2021.
The U.S. is already close to 8,600 troops and would reach that in coming days.
U.S. President Donald Trump, on Tuesday, restated his desire for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
U.S. and NATO officials told Reuters, the withdrawal was hastened, in part because of concerns about the spread of Coronavirus.
In a report, The New York Times said the Pentagon believes that at least 50% of the Afghan security forces are infected by the virus. The Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Ministries of Interior and Defense, have refuted these claims.
The President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow in a telephone call with President Ashraf Ghani said that his country seeks to build two coronavirus testing centers in the ports of Torghondi and Andkhoy, the Presidential Palace said in a statement.
According to the statement, President Ghani in his phone call with his Turkmen counterpart has focused on expanding economic and trade ties.
In the meantime, the Turkmen president assured Ghani that all cargo trucks passing through the ports of Torghondi and Andkhoy would be disinfected by his country’s government.
Welcoming the initiative, President Ghani has also suggested that the two countries’ foreign ministers will work on the issue.
This comes as the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country has also affected the trade ties with the neighbouring countries.
Afghan National and Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) in a joint statement on Wednesday rejected the New York Times report that at least 50 percent of Afghan forces most likely have coronavirus.
According to the statement, the Ministries of Interior, Defense and National Directorate of Security (NDS) claimed the infection figure was not true.
The New York Times report stated that the Pentagon believes that at least 50 percent of Afghan security forces have coronavirus, meaning that any training and joint operations between US and Afghan forces have been paused.
However, the joint statement by the Afghan security institutions cited that Afghan forces are constantly engaging with Resolute Support which will continue to offer training and advice.
According to the statement, preventive measures are in place at Afghan forces bases across the country and the vulnerability of Afghan forces to coronavirus has been kept at lowest level.
Officials at the Ministry of Finance say that even after 22 days, the Lower House of Parliament has not approved the amendments in the budge to tackle the Coronavirus.
In a series of tweets, Finance Ministry spokesman Shamroz Khan Masjidi revealed the Ministry had approved the budget on May 6. He urged the Parliament members to understand the time-sensitive issue and adopt the amendments as soon as possible.
After 22 days, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has announced that the Coronavirus outbreak has reached its peak in Afghanistan. In a new warning to citizens, the Deputy Minister of Health, Wahid Majrooh, said that difficult times lie ahead of the people and they should follow all quarantine measures and practice social distancing.
So far, the total confirmed cases in the country are 12,456, with 227 dead and 1,138 recovered.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) expressed concern over rising civilian casualties in clashes between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban in the northern part of the country. “We have had 107 civilian casualties, including 41 killed and 66 injured [since the beginning of 2020],” said Sayyed Mohammad Sameh, head of AIHRC North regional office.
At present, seven districts, as well as those around the Balkh-Jawzjan highway and the Dar-e-Suf to Mazar-e-Sharif highway, are facing major security threats with a number of civilians killed. The highest number of civilian casualties was recorded in Chamtal, Chahar Bolak and Balkh districts of Balkh province.
Statistics show that the Taliban is responsible for most of the civilian casualties.
“The Taliban are coming from all around – forests and mountains – on two, four, six motorcycles. They enter an area and throw their belongings. It’s a problem for the people,” said Balkh police chief Samunwal Ajmal Faiz. During the fighting, both the security forces and the Taliban use the civilian’s homes as trenches, and people as shields.
In the latest case, residents of Balkh district claimed nine civilians had been killed and 11 others wounded in airstrikes by government forces. Army officials in the north said the Taliban were using civilians to destroy part of the Balkh-Jawzjan highway. These people were the targets of the government airstrikes.
“The release of 900 prisoners by the other side is a good progress,” Suhain Shaheen, a spokesperson for the political office of Taliban tweeted. The group welcomed the Afghan government’s decision to release the prisoners and assured them that this will be reciprocated. “The Islamic Emirate will release a remarkable number of prisoners soon, inshaAllah.”
The Afghan government released 900 Taliban prisoners late on Tuesday and had already released 100 prisoners the day before.
President Ashraf Ghani had promised to expedite the release of at least 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to the group’s call for a three-day ceasefire during Eid.
Two Afghan migrants were arrested crossing the Polish-Slovak border illegally in a truck of imported watermelons. The men were detained by the Polish border force at a centre for illegal aliens.
Police said, the men had paid €4,000 each for the trip.
The men were discovered after the Polish driver of the truck heard noises from the rear and informed the police. Upon searching the truck, the two men, aged 18 and 41, were found. The duo thought they had been detained in Germany which has more welcoming asylum rules than Poland. They had been prepared for a longer journey with warm clothes, food and several hundred euros each.
The migrants are being held for three months in an eastern Polish town.
More 325,000 Afghan refugees have returned back home over the past four months said the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation. Over 1,500 refugees are returning daily from Iran while a total of 55,000 have returned from Pakistan.
The refugees coming in from Iran are travelling through the Herat and Nimroz borders. Iran is one of the worst-hit Coronavirus affected countries and fears of contracting the disease has led to the exodus. Pakistan too has been badly affected by the virus.
Complete lockdowns also mean no jobs – legally or illegally – forcing the refugees to return back.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s total Coronavirus cases rose to 11,831 yesterday.
According to Afghan and Iranian officials, all border crossings between the two countries have reopened and the trade exchanges have returned to normal amid the pandemic.
Chairman of Iran-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce Hossein Salimi said Afghanistan has lifted the restrictions on the import of Iranian products that had been placed after the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The common border between Iran and Afghanistan is now open, restrictions on trade have been removed, and the situation for the export of commodities to Afghanistan has returned to normal, he added.
Salimi noted that Iranian truck drivers carrying goods to Afghanistan are easily granted entry visa.
Consumer goods and foodstuff make up the bulk of the Iranian exports to Afghanistan, he cited, adding that the value of annual trade between the two countries stands at around $3 billion.